Shake Things Up: A Work In Progress by Brad Cotton

Title: A Work In Progress

Author: Brad Cotton

Genre: Literary Fiction

Where I Got It: Free ebook copy in exchange for review

Score: 5 out of 5

So.  On Monday morning my internet stopped working.  Just DIED.  A technician came to fix it, and about three hours later was still flabbergasted as to why it wasn’t working.  He left.  I spent the night without internet (and those who know me know that that’s like  not breathing for twelve hours!).  The technician came back Tuesday, and it was two pm before he finally got the internet working again.  By then I had gone approximately thirty hours without internet, and I was definitely feeling the withdrawal symptoms.  The point of all this is, however, that this period of internetlessness left me with some free time.  During which I read all of A Work In Progress in two or three sittings.

And let me begin by saying: this is a good book.

A Work In Progress, by Brad Cotton, is about a writer named Danny Bayle.  Now, Danny Bayle’s life kind of sucks.  Four years ago he wrote a mediocre novel and hasn’t written much of anything since.  His girlfriend of five years, Carah, has left him and moved to France.  His grandfather, who was like a father to him, has died.  And he’s barely done anything in months but mope, and drink, and complain about his inability to write.

Then, one day, he decides its time to take control of his life, try new thing, meet new people, etc.  He starts a casual relationship with a woman.  Joins a support group for depression.  Makes friends with an artist named Katie.  And even decided to take drum lessons at one point.  Of course, none of this makes his life easier, exactly, especially when Carah starts calling from France out of the blue.  But it certainly makes his life a whole hell of a lot more interesting.

So, what I like about this novel… you know what, let’s start with what I didn’t like:

There are a couple summary exposition passages that feel a tad awkward and unnecessary to me, but this only happens a couple times, and doesn’t really hurt the story at all.  The other thing that bothers me is more of a problem, but still not enough to really hurt it:  I get the feeling that despite the fact that Carah dumped Danny and ran off to France we’re still supposed to like her, or at least sympathize with her to some extent.  One more than one occasion, in fact, Danny comment that the whole mess might have been his fault because he took her for granted.  But you never really get any sense for HOW Danny might have taken her for granted, whether this is a true assessment of their relationship, or why we the readers should have any sympathy for the woman who broke our “hero’s” heart.  We get some hints, and she seems nice enough in their phone conversations that its not completely out of the realm of possibility, but some more concrete evidence from their relationship would have helped me along here.

Now, on to what I liked:

Pretty much everything else.  The characters, all the characters including the many secondary characters, were well-written and well-rounded.  The best secondary characters: Casey – Danny’s best friend; Katie – the 19-year-old artist Danny befriends; and Mrs. Tierney – the owner of the sorta-kinda foster home where Katie lives.  These characters are interesting, fun, and eminently likable.

And then there’s the main character, Danny Bayle.  This is a character that I think many people, especially fellow writers, can relate to.  I know I certainly did.  And that’s not to say that I’m a guy, or that I’ve published a novel (mediocre or otherwise), or that I’ve ever been in a relationship for anything close to five years, or that I’m a drinker or have ever had weed (Danny does a lot in this book, whereas I thankfully skipped that lesson in my high school and college education).  But, I could very easily relate to the writer who is trying so hard to write and not getting anywhere, who is lonely and completely dissatisfied with his life, and who desperately needs to change things, find new outlets, meet new people, and really shake things up.  I feel like that all the damn time.

I think at least one or two things about this character should appeal to most people.

As for the plot, well this is literary fiction, so of course its extremely character-driven.  In fact, it doesn’t feel so much like a plot with clearly defined beginning, middle, and end, as it does a momentary camera focus on a point in Danny’s life when a series of somewhat unrelated events and people all conspire to make Danny the person he was meant to be.  And this is a good thing.  Because real life is not like a well-planned clearly-defined plot.  It is, of course, verisimilitude and not fact, but this book does a very good job of mimicking real life.  It’s one of those stories that makes me want to ask how much of it is based on the author’s life, even though I know that from a craft perspective that’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to ask.  You’re supposed to take a story on its own merits, not as some kind of extension of the author’s biography. Still, a story that feels this real kind of makes it impossible not to ask.

In other words, folks, this is a very good book, that you should definitely check out.  I really really enjoyed reading it, and I think you will too.

Here’s a link to Brad Cotton’s website, and here’s where you can buy the book on Amazon: A Work In Progress.

A Work In Progress Blog Tour

*NOTE: My apologies!  I was supposed to post this blog tour post for Brad Cotton’s novel A Work In Progress yesterday, but I’ve been having some serious internet issues lately, and it didn’t happen.  I was also hoping to have finished the novel to write my own review of it some time this weekend, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen either.  I WILL review it.  It’s just taking me longer than expected.

For the moment, please take the time to read about this novel and its author, and check out the links! Thanks!

— Amanda

A Unique Lit Fiction Novel with Moving Dialogue!

A Work in Progress is a new literary fiction novel by author Brad Cotton. The book has received great reviews and is on sale from July 23rd to August 3rd! Download your copy here.

In addition, Brad is doing a big giveaway, including a $100 gift certificate to Amazon and signed copies of his book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tweet, like, follow, share, blog and grab a copy of his book to enter.

Get your copy of A Work in Progress today! On sale on Amazon only.

About A Work in Progress

Writer Danny Bayle’s life is in shambles. His true love has left him and his grandfather — the last and most important influence in his life — has just passed away. Danny has spent the last few months languishing, unable to write a single word, but at the urging of a friend ventures out into the world in an attempt to jumpstart a new life, befriending in the process an interesting assortment of characters including an author, a musician, an artist, and an elderly retired nurse. Garnering the attention of more than one woman, Danny sees his new friends unwittingly begin to shape what could just be the story of his life. But will he ever let go of the girl that got away?

About the author


Born and raised in Toronto, Brad Cotton has been writing professionally for over a decade. An average guitarist, a subpar painter, and a horrible juggler of anything larger than a tangerine, he is currently married to a woman, but does not have a cat, a drum set or any children. A Work in Progress is his first novel.

Learn more about the author and his work at: http://www.bradcotton.com/

Frustrated and Worried, A Review of Claire-Obscure by Billie Hinton

Bookworm Wednesday: Frustrated and Worried, A Review of Claire-Obscure by Billie Hinton

A couple months ago I mentioned that I had started reading one of the ebooks I had received for free through the Blog Tour de Troops event back in May.  This book was Claire-Obscure by Billie Hinton, and I said that I would no doubt have a new book review for you in a week or two.  And then… nothing.

Two months later… I have finally managed to finish Claire-Obscure and can now offer up the book review I promised all those weeks ago.

There were two factors that caused me to take so long finishing this book.  The first is, obviously, that it’s the middle of my first semester of my PhD coursework, and both time and energy are at an all-time premium right now.  So it’s really no wonder that it took me so long.  However, I actually started reading this book two weeks before the semester started, and I have read longer books in less time than that before.  So the real problem was that this book was very difficult for me to read.  This is not to say it’s a bad book, because it’s not.  But before I explain, let me give you a brief summary.

Claire-Obscure is about a young woman named Claire Caviness.  It is written in first-person present tense, and the opening lines, in Claire’s words, give you a good sense of her: “Dear Virginia Woolf, My name is Claire Caviness.  I am twenty-one years old, with an English degree and a job at a bookstore.  I am the only child of parents I rarely see.  My mother has never hugged me.  My father takes pleasure with men.  I am no longer angry about that, but jealous, because he does something I cannot.”  Yes, Claire writes letters to Virginia Woolf, telling the story of her life.  She collects words as if she is desperately seeking the right word to make everything better (and accordingly, a word and it’s definition open each chapter).  She buys and wears eccentric vintage clothes. We also quickly learn that as a teenager Claire was raped not once, but twice, and this is (unsurprisingly) the deciding factor in her relationships with men.

And as the book opens, she meets a man at an art gallery named Finn Weston.  Quickly, more quickly than seems possible (to her or the readers), she moves in with Finn, fancies herself in love with him, and becomes increasingly obsessed with him as she realizes he will not sleep with her.  He has gone so far as to give her her own room in his apartment, and he locks his bedroom door at night.  From here, things get more and more strange.  One of Claire’s friends kills herself, her female boss at the bookstore comes on to her, and she meets another man named Raoul at a club, who quickly places himself Finn’s rival.

Put simply, this book is the portrait of a woman in crisis.

What made it difficult for me to read, especially in the first half of the novel, is that I was continuously frustrated by Claire’s actions and choices.  I understood that the things she did were in a variety of ways reflections of the immense damage done to her, but that didn’t make me any less frustrated.  I wanted so badly to grab her by the shoulders, shake her really hard, and explain to her exactly WHAT she was doing, WHY she was doing it, and why it was the WRONG thing to do.  Because most of the time, she really didn’t know.  And because I am always extremely hyper-self-aware, I sometimes have difficulty staying calm when others aren’t.  So, every twenty minutes or so, I would get frustrated, growl at my Kindle, and toss it on the bed.  Then after a couple hours of this back and forth, I would give up entirely and not read again for a couple days.  Which meant it was going to take quite awhile to get through the whole novel.

What I want you to take away from this, however, is NOT that this is a bad book.  Rather, the fact that I was able to be so painfully frustrated with this character, should tell you something about how real Billie Hinton was able to make Claire.  I felt for her, I didn’t want to see her get hurt, and I didn’t want to see her do stupid things.  I was worried about her.  I wanted to jump into the novel and be the one friend who could figure out how to stop her and help her.

The two main male characters, Finn and Raoul, were also interesting, fleshed-out, and complicated characters.  But most of the time, I didn’t want to help them, I just wanted to smack them.  Hard.  If I tell you why, that will be giving too much away.  If you read it, you’ll see what I mean.

So, the characters are real and human and interesting.  The story, slow in parts, frustrating in others, and pretty intense towards the end, probably would not have kept me going if I wasn’t so invested in making sure Claire ended up some place better than where she started out (though, toward the middle, I was beginning to worry that I was reading a tragedy and hadn’t been warned).  It sort of felt like walking someone home because you want to make sure they get there in one piece.  The ending, while not precisely “happy” in the traditional “and she lived happily ever after” sense, was satisfying.  And I felt it was safe enough to leave Claire at her front door, about to go inside.

There is, as I discovered at the end of the book, a sequel called Signs That Might Be Omens.  But I’ll be honest, as much as I ended up liking Claire-Obscure in the end, I’m not sure I’ll pick up the sequel.  The ending of Claire-Obscure seemed complete enough, and I don’t feel a sequel is necessary.  And the short description of the sequel sounds a little like something a fan-writer would do when they felt the girl didn’t end up with the right guy at the end of the book.  I have no doubt this is a gross overgeneralization and is probably not fair to the sequel, and maybe I’ll give in and read it eventually, but it just seems unnecessary to me.

If you’ve read Claire-Obscure, what do you think of my review? Fair, or not?  If you’ve read the sequel, PLEASE tell me what you think!  And if you haven’t read either, and you’re not sure what my final verdict is from this: Yes, I definitely recommend Claire-Obscure, and you can find it here, on Smashwords.